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UK: Labour Party sets up working group to investigate UBI

John McDonnell, Labour MP and Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer in the UK, has revealed that the Labour Party has established a working group to investigate universal basic income. Guy Standing, cofounder of BIEN, will play a key role in drafting their report.

Speaking directly to Basic Income News, Standing explains:

“I have been invited to become an economic adviser to the Labour Party, and in particular to John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor (effectively, the Opposition finance minister). He has asked me to help prepare a detailed strategy report for framing a basic income and enabling the Labour leadership to present a plan for implementing a basic income as part of Labour’s long-term economic strategy.”

In an interview with the Independent, McDonnell explained that the Labour Party intends to use this report as the basis for a tour around the UK to discuss the idea with the public. In the interview, McDonnell highlights the parallels between the idea of basic income today and that of a universal and unconditional child benefit before its introduction in 1975:

“I was involved in the early campaigns many years ago on the development of child benefit – at that point in time there were all sorts of anxieties about whether you could bring forward a benefit for everybody that wasn’t based upon an assessment of need and we won the argument. I think child benefit is like one of the foundation stones of a future basic income.”

This development follows Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s announcement last September that his party would research universal basic income, and McDonnell’s own positive comments regarding the policy earlier that year.

Jonathan Reynolds, MP and Shadow Economic Secretary to the Treasury City Minister, has been named as the leader of the working group, a politically savvy move given that he himself identifies as a moderate within this currently sharply divided party. He wrote favourably about basic income for the New Statesman last February, and made the point that public support for state welfare could be bolstered by following the model of the much-loved National Health Service (NHS) – that is, by making sure that it “provides something for everybody”.

The basic income working group will present its results before the next general election, scheduled for 2020. While the Labour Party is currently trailing the leading Conservatives in the polls, not least due to divisions within the party since the election of Corbyn as its leader in 2015, the British political landscape is currently highly unstable given the unforeseeable effects of Brexit. Indications that some form of basic income might be included in Labour’s election manifesto, then, are significant.

Read more:

Ashley Cowburn, “Labour sets up ‘working group’ to investigate universal basic income, John McDonnell reveals”, Independent, 5 February, 2017.

Kate McFarland, “UK: Labour Leader to Investigate Universal Basic Income”, Basic Income News, 15 September, 2016.

Kate McFarland, “UNITED KINGDOM: Labour Party to look into Basic Income”, Basic Income News, 6 June, 2016.

Jonathan Reynolds, “How I learnt to stop worrying and love Basic Income”, New Statesman, 17 February, 2016.

Reviewed by Kate McFarland

Photo: John McDonnell; CC 3.0 by Percivale Productions

About Genevieve Shanahan

Genevieve Shanahan has written 20 articles.

Genevieve is a graduate of University College London, with an MPhil in philosophy. She currently works at the Grenoble Ecole de Management, assisting with research on young people and work in Europe, and otherwise reads and writes about basic income.

The views expressed in this Op-Ed piece are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the view of Basic Income News or BIEN. BIEN and Basic Income News do not endorse any particular policy, but Basic Income News welcomes discussion from all points of view in its Op-Ed section.


  • Richard Rutherford

    This is great news and could provide Labour with a distinctive policy and, if the argument can be won, an attractive one. Best wishes to all of you who are involved in this project.

  • Christopher Walker

    I say it’s great,as the current system is based on lies & is illegal to say the least.I don’t believe in the reforms,you have to look at that I Daniel Blake to see that this system is disgusting. This could be the rise of Labour from the Milliband days.Sure Corbyn has his problems,but they are brexit problems at the moment,& can be ironed out with a good strong policy.

  • Lisa

    I think basic income is well overdue in the UK,thanks to Cameron and the welfare reform this country is a mess,Adults are being punished like naughty kids In a class,sanctions are wrong and are causing chaos,from not having enough money to get food to pay the bills to being homeless,The way the job centre treat you is discusting and the work programs also carries its threats,This is the UK and its 2017 and the country is a mess now, it needs help now urgently not in three years time,Someone needs to stop the sanctions,Its discusting the way people are treated its bullying and cruel why are they allowed to get away with it?.

  • Trev

    About time we had a Universal Basic Income, instead of the current Benefits system that makes everyones life a total misery with never-ending jobsearch just for the sake of it & having to record all your Activity none-stop on UJM when no one even bothers to read it, & the threat of Sanctions, & all the bullying & intimidation at the Jobcentre. It’s enough to drive people to suicide. Shut down all the Jobcentres & pay us an UNCONDITIONAL income.

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